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Understanding the Past: African American Lives

In this series, Henry Louis Gates, takes eight prominent African American lives — Dr. Ben Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Mae Jemison, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey — and trace their family trees, as well as his own, using all available documents going back deep into slavery.

Once the paper trail has been exhausted, he does their DNA analysis to determine where their ancestors came from in Africa. The series really shows how rich the stories of average African Americans are. He has extracted compelling stories about individuals who in some cases could barely read and write. These stories are as rich as the stories of Booker T. Washington or Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. Du Bois or Marcus Garvey. This is another way of telling history, and a way that everyone can respond to. Learn more

Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois professor of the Humanities and chair of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES, an unprecedented four-part PBS series, takes Alex Haley’s Roots saga to a whole new level through moving stories of personal discovery. Using genealogy, oral history, family stories and DNA analysis to trace lineage through American history and back to Africa, the series provides a life-changing journey for a diverse group of highly accomplished African Americans: Dr. Ben Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Mae Jemison, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey.